When I watched the 2007 cartoon movie Ratatouille in the theater, I was immediately drawn to the namesake dish that won over the food critic and began my quest to learn to reproduce it. I had made several other versions of the French vegetable dish – including Julia Child’s in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I loved – but the crisp presentation of the movie version really caught my eye.
I quickly learned that the French Laundry’s Chef Thomas Keller was the food consultant for the movie. It took me many months to track down the recipe, finally resorting to buying a 40-page folio of recipes on ebay that had been given to Academy Award members to promote the movie.
The recipe looked straightforward enough, but I quickly learned it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. It took me three tries, making errors in following the recipe, before I got it right. Even then, I found it was a rather labor intensive recipe, taking 2 hours to prepare each 8-10 servings, not counting the time to shop for vegetable of similar diameter.
I modified the recipe to keep notes for myself on the preparation steps (see below). Here are photos of the major steps.
My finished byaldi aren’t as pristine as the photo from the movie, but the movie photo is certainly not from the precise recipe, since according to the recipe, the vegetables are coated with an herb and oil mixture and broiled.
The completed precious servings are absolutely delicious! It’s hard to keep diners from grabbing more than one, but remember: It takes about 2 hours of labor to make each 8-10 servings! One per person is enough for a Nouvelle Cuisine sized portion; two makes a nice appetizer.
Here’s my recipe:
Remi’s Ratatouille: Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi
Rod’s modified version – for one 11×17” baking sheet pan = 10 small servings
1 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup finely diced yellow onion (~¼ large Vidalia onion)
1 28 oz can petit diced tomatoes with juices -or- 6 tomatoes (1½ lbs)
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
FOR VEGETABLES (about 70 slices of each)
2 zucchini (8 to 10 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese eggplant, (8 to 10 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
2 yellow squash (8 to 10 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
6 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 teaspoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.
2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 20 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 11×18” baking sheet pan.
3. For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees. Along a long edge, arrange a strip of alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Repeat until pan is filled – 6 strips should fill the pan; all vegetables may not be needed.
4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (If will be served cold, before cooling, broil to brown vegetables, as in step 6.) At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.
5. For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.
6. To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Using an offset spatula, very carefully lift 1/2 of a row – about 8” worth – onto a plate . Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding the byaldi into a timbale shape with piperade inside and cap the timbale with a few slices of vegetable. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot, warm, or chilled.
Yield: 10 small timbale-sized servings